The Arty Semite

Paul Mazursky From 'Curb' to Warsaw and Beyond

By Benjamin Ivry

  • Print
  • Share Share

At 81, Brooklyn-born screenwriter and director Paul Mazursky may be most familiar to some HBO-TV viewers as Sunshine, the ill-fated poker dealer in “The Sopranos” and Norm, strictly unamused by Larry David’s antics in “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” A new book, “Paul on Mazursky,” out from Wesleyan University Press this fall, reminds us that Mazursky’s varied talents add up to a memorable legacy of filmmaking.

The book consists of softball questions from author Sam Wesson, creating a wholly uncritical aura noticeably absent from Mazursky’s 1999 memoirs, “Show Me the Magic” from Simon & Schuster. Mazursky’s finest work combines pitilessly perceptive laughs with emotional understanding, such as 1968’s “I Love You, Alice B. Toklas,” 1969’s “Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice,” 1974’s “Harry and Tonto,” 1976’s “Next Stop, Greenwich Village,” 1984’s “Moscow on the Hudson” and 1986’s “Down and Out in Beverly Hills.” Mazursky has produced his share of duds, although his artistic success rate is higher than those of either Mel Brooks or Woody Allen, to cite two near-contemporaries.

Mazursky also created problematic tragicomedies, such as 1973’s “Blume in Love,” and 1989’s overtly dramatic “Enemies, a Love Story” inspired by Isaac Bashevis Singer’s novel of that title.

Always informed with a secure grasp of Yiddishkeit, Mazursky surprised some viewers in 2006 when he released “Yippee: A Journey to Jewish Joy,” a documentary about the annual Rosh Hashanah pilgrimage by Orthodox Jews to the grave of Reb Nachman of Breslov in Uman, central Ukraine. Finding unexpectedly entertaining variety in the Orthodox protagonists whom he interviews, “Yippee” follows the Mazursky pattern of belying expectations.

In a preface to “Paul on Mazursky,” Brooks writes that Mazursky is a “weird combination of worldly sophistication and a kind of Jewish provinciality… [Mazursky] knows the cheap joke works because he knows what people amount to. Worldly is a part of that, but Paul also knows what’s beneath it.” “Paul on Mazursky” also offers wry takes on Mel Gibson’s The Passion Of The Christ (“You either die laughing or go with it”) and proposes that Gibson’s next project might be a blockbuster Holocaust-denial epic (“Holocaust? A Comedy by Mel Gibson”). Mazursky addresses the conflicted Judaism of screen characters played by Elliott Gould in “Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice,” George Segal in “Blume in Love,” and Shelley Winters as the nightmare Jewish mother in “Next Stop, Greenwich Village.” In “Yippee” Mazursky calls Reb Nachman “a real man, a human being,” it’s a description which fits this gifted filmmaker too.

Watch Paul Mazursky interviewed in January.

And watch a 2010 greeting to the Warsaw Jewish Film Festival.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Woody Allen, Paul Mazursky, Shelley Winters, Natalie Wood, Mel Brooks, Larry David, George Segal, Elliot Gould

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • When is a legume not necessarily a legume? Philologos has the answer.
  • "Sometime in my childhood, I realized that the Exodus wasn’t as remote or as faceless as I thought it was, because I knew a former slave. His name was Hersh Nemes, and he was my grandfather." Share this moving Passover essay!
  • Getting ready for Seder? Chag Sameach! http://jd.fo/q3LO2
  • "We are not so far removed from the tragedies of the past, and as Jews sit down to the Seder meal, this event is a teachable moment of how the hatred of Jews-as-Other is still alive and well. It is not realistic to be complacent."
  • Aperitif Cocktail, Tequila Shot, Tom Collins or Vodka Soda — Which son do you relate to?
  • Elvis craved bacon on tour. Michael Jackson craved matzo ball soup. We've got the recipe.
  • This is the face of hatred.
  • What could be wrong with a bunch of guys kicking back with a steak and a couple of beers and talking about the Seder? Try everything. #ManSeder
  • BREAKING: Smirking killer singled out Jews for death in suburban Kansas City rampage. 3 die in bloody rampage at JCC and retirement home.
  • Real exodus? For Mimi Minsky, it's screaming kids and demanding hubby on way down to Miami, not matzo in the desert.
  • The real heroines of Passover prep aren't even Jewish. But the holiday couldn't happen without them.
  • Is Handel’s ‘Messiah’ an anti-Semitic screed?
  • Meet the Master of the Matzo Ball.
  • Pierre Dulaine wants to do in his hometown of Jaffa what he did for kids in Manhattan: teach them to dance.
  • "The first time I met Mick Jagger, I said, 'Those are the tackiest shoes I’ve ever seen.'” Jewish music journalist Lisa Robinson remembers the glory days of rock in her new book, "There Goes Gravity."
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.